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Stories heal, move, inspire

ZAZA Muchemwa is a poet, playwright, theatre director and arts manager based in Zimbabwe. Recently she managed and artistically led Woman Is, a virtual theatre and conversation project by Vaviri Creative supported by Zimbabwe German Society; she runs an online platform Spotlight with Zaza Muchemwa, where she profiles creatives from Africa. Her latest works are The Fourth Interrogation (developed at the Almasi African Playwrights Festival under the title, A Midnight Conundrum) and Numbers (developed during a playwriting residency at the West Yorkshire Playhouse Theatre). She speaks to Khumbulani Muleya (KM)

KM: Congratulations on your appointment as chair of the Zimbabwe Centre of International Theatre Institute, what’s your vision for local theatre and arts education?

ZM: Thank you Khumbulani, the potential we have in ushering in a legacy of great compelling Zimbabwean storytelling is real and alive. We can only realise great storytelling legacies if we build strong institutions, afford artists constant opportunities to further develop themselves and their craft at all levels of their careers, and facilitate a working environment where artists transform their practices into viable entrepreneurial ventures.

KM: As an artist at what point in your life did you become conscious of your creative prowess?

ZM: From an early age I understood the power of stories and how they can be tools in which we can heal, move and inspire one another.

Witnessing the transformative power of storying at home and in public spaces gave me the impetus to strive to tell stories through various available mediums. I have been growing since then, with each and every poem and play I write, every play I direct, and every creative process I helm.

KM: As associate artistic director at Almasi what do your duties entail?

ZM: My role at Almasi has afforded me the opportunity to gain more understanding of the workings of the arts industry and how practitioner, craft and space development is key to industry growth. It entails developing relationships with stakeholders, working with artists and finding effective ways to bring about the vision of the organisation.

We are also big on the desegregation of the artistic space, projects like the Almasi African Playwrights Conference always has an eclectic mix of playwrights, actors, stage managers, director and dramaturges from diverse backgrounds converging in an artistic realm so as to find ways of making plays more of what they need to be. Seeing more women taking on the chance to lead and helm processes is intensely satisfying.

KM: How would you describe influences that drew you towards art, has your upbringing and family background influenced your creative processes in any way?

ZM: I grew up in a home where my siblings and I were surrounded by books, music and storytelling culture. Love for reading came from home. And my appreciation of stories came from both my maternal and paternal grandmothers. Our parents also took us to live events, community screenings and theatre shows. So an appreciation of creativity and performance came from there.

KM: You are an award winning theatre practitioner having directed several theatre productions, performances and readings, what is your opinion regards to Zimbabwe’s contribution in the practice of theatre on the continent?

ZM: We, Zimbabweans, are a people who are burdened with experience, which no other people have; there is a wealth of story in that. While there are so many plays out there, I believe more are coming, with the right approaches to it all there are going to be more compelling home-grown dramatic pieces populating the global stages.

KM: What lessons and new skills have you learnt during Covid-19.

ZM: When the pandemic hit one of the first things I realised was that I needed to take better care of myself. I had been coasting along for quite some time, putting myself into high pressure situations thinking that I did not have time, which is something I had to quickly unlearn. When the pandemic forced me to slow down, I gained more insight and perspective in terms of what is important, what is important should be what is important to you as an individual and not what the world is telling you is important.

I have learnt to place my wellbeing at the centre of what I do, and to advocate for the things that bring meaning to my life. I have also been spending this time learning digitally, from languages to presenting work online. Lots of hours spent on Zoom and other platforms!

KM: Any memorable moments?

ZM: Too many to mention here. Each project, each acknowledgement I receive for my effort and each creative product I bring into the space affords me gems of awe inspiring moments which propel me to continue doing what I do.

KM: What’s your definition of success?

ZM: Success for me is being able to do what you love consistently and being happy with the results.

KM: Any projects in progress?

ZM: I am currently part of a Playwrights Group with East West Players (LA) where Playwrights get to develop new work; I am also working on a solo piece which will be performed hopefully sometime next year.

KM: Lastly what advice would you give to young women who find themselves in spaces that are uncomfortable with a gender balanced presence in positions of power and influence?

ZM: It is important to hold space, not just for yourselves and each other but for others who are going to come after you. So stand your ground, you deserve to be there.

Whatever circumstances led you to be in those spaces; do the work, build support structures for yourselves and let your voices ring loud with your truth.

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